Calls for more data sharing in policy making and HE

With open data to form a key strand in the second phase of efficiency work in higher education led by Sir Ian Diamond, we feature a contribution to the discussion by the Royal Statistical Society that argues for the importance of data in policy and academia.

The Royal Statistical Society recently launched a Data Manifesto in the run up to the General Election.

The manifesto has ten recommendations and focuses on how the government can improve data for policymaking, democracy and for prosperity. Much of what is contained in the manifesto will be of interest to those in the higher education sector.

The Data Manifesto argues that evidence must be taken more seriously in policy formulation and evaluation, and that official statistics should be at the heart of policy debate.

We argue that there should be further investment in investigating what policy works, including through the ‘What Works’ centres. Government should publish the data and evidence that underpin any new policies it announces, and should also commit to regular and long term evaluation of policies.

For those in the HE sector, a greater commitment to evidence informing policymaking and more transparent assumptions would be welcome, particularly around funding models.

‘Opening up’

The Data Manifesto pushes for the opening up of government data and giving citizens greater access to quality local data. It calls for greater data sharing between government departments for statistics and research purposes and believes the private sector should be encouraged to share data with researchers for the same purpose. This would be a great opportunity for academics to get hold of new datasets which can improve how we understand the world.

We also say that the government should commit to increased investment in research and innovation to keep pace with other leading scientific nations. We argue this should be accompanied by a 10 year strategic framework for science and innovation. Given the pressures on budgets, we think it is important to make this argument for science spending.

Finally, the Data Manifesto calls for improvements in statistical literacy across the board in schools, universities and professions. There is a big opportunity for universities here.

The new Q-Step programme developed by the Nuffield Foundation has supported 15 universities to develop more quantitative courses for social scientists.

But the need is not confined to social science: scientists need to strengthen their quantitative skills as was pointed out by The Economist last year. Q-Step might provide a model that can be replicated across the sciences.

Hetan Shah is Executive Director of the Royal Statistical Society and you can find him on Twitter: @HetanShah